THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
Suggested Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4, Hebrews 3:1-6, Hebrews 4:14-5:10, Hebrews 8:1-6, Hebrews 9:11-10:23, Hebrews 11:1-12:3
For many centuries, the Letter to the Hebrews was attributed to Paul, but a majority of biblical scholars now reject that attribution for a variety of reasons, including that the style of writing in the letter is so different from Paul’s. While there are scholars who still favor Paul, a number of others have been argued for as the author, as well, including Barnabas, Apollos and Priscilla. The letter is anonymous, and the debate over who authored Hebrews has been on-going since the earliest centuries. We do not know who wrote the letter, but the author was very knowledgeable about the Jewish religion and worship, and was quite fluent in Greek. The letter is called “Hebrews” because it is written to Christians who are familiar with and admire the Jewish religion and the worship at the Temple with the high priest.
The Christians to whom this letter was written would have had great regard for the prophets of Israel. Hebrews begins by explaining that God had spoken to us in the past through His prophets, but now He has spoken to us through His Son (1:1-4), Who is greater even than the angels (1:5-14). The Christians to whom this letter was written would have held up Moses as a hero of their faith. Even still, Hebrews tells us that Jesus is greater than Moses. “Moses was ‘faithful in all his house’ as a ‘servant’ to testify to what would be spoken, but Christ was faithful as a son placed over his house. We are his house, if [only] we hold fast to our confidence and pride in our hope” (3:5-6). The Christians to whom this letter was written had great admiration for the Jewish priesthood and the high priest. Hebrews writes that Jesus is our High Priest, and He is a High Priest Who can sympathize with us because He was like us in all ways, except sin. Because of this, we can come to God’s throne with confidence that we will receive mercy and grace (4:14-16).
In the Holy Place, the high priest would sacrifice an animal and pour out its blood as a symbol of being free from sin and reconciled with God (see Leviticus, chapters 1-7 for a discussion of the various sacrifices offered under the Mosaic Law). Hebrews compares the sacrifice of the high priest to the sacrifice of Jesus, insisting that Jesus’ sacrifice is far superior, because Jesus’ sacrifice is not a symbolic sacrifice of an animal that represents the sins of Israel, and the Holy Place entered is not a copy of the one in heaven. Jesus’ sacrifice is real. He offers Himself, holy and sinless, and He enters into heaven itself to make His sacrifice. This is why Jesus’ sacrifice need not be repeated again and again, like the sacrifice of the high priest here on Earth. Jesus “now once for all has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice” (9:26).
Because of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, we can approach God with sincerity and faith, being careful not to sin (because if the punishment for breaking the Law of Moses is death, think of the greater punishment of disobeying God’s Son!), serving others, keeping courage in the face of persecution, and holding on to the hope given us by Christ. “Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for he who made the promise is trustworthy” (10:23).
WHAT DOES THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS TEACH US ABOUT JESUS?
- Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets of Israel. He is greater than the prophets, greater than Moses, greater even than the angels.
- Jesus is like us in all ways, except sin, so He is a just and merciful judge.
- Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross was a perfect sacrifice, because He was holy and sinless, so no other sacrifice is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.